RLIRA History

RLIRA Committee Meeting 1978

“Those Who Also Served” 

A Personal Tribute to the Chairmen and Committee members who served the RLIRA in Africa.


The RLIRA committee in 1982/3 was chaired by Col John Cole, and met roughly once a month, in Harare, in “the dead of night”, in the First Street CABS building, in an office on the top floor.

I was recruited by Colin Dace to take over as Secretary as he was moving on soon. As I recall in those days we had to operate clandestinely, and so we developed a strong and reliable network of communication between us which would give us early warning if there was any hint of possible scrutiny or worse from the powers in charge.

Despite the “cloak and dagger” stuff, and under the leadership of John Cole, we successfully managed to run the affairs of the Association for a few years.

The membership was approximately 25 strong and I only recall ever attending one RLI function [ Regimental Day 1983/84 ] on the banks of Lake Mac. I recall this event being well attended, despite the need to be clandestine. It was a great opportunity to catch up with men I had last seen in the days of service in the RLI.

However, an ever dwindling membership, as the “ouens” packed up their families and headed South, made it difficult to operate. This, coupled with the political situation at the time, meant the writing was on the wall for the RLIRA in Zimbabwe and it was decided to wrap up the Association in Zimbabwe. I cannot recall the exact date the RLIRA ceased to exist in Zimbabwe, but I am sure someone somewhere can enlighten me.

South Africa 

Using existing records and the personal accounts from some of the members, I have attempted to put together some information regarding the RLIRA in South Africa from the early 1980’s.

The numerous Committees, elected over the years were successful at ensuring that the men of the RLI were always in one way or another “kept in the loop” with regards to well being and general business of the Association.


Informal gatherings were arranged from time to time normally by Jono Dixon at the Fourways Hotel in Johannesburg, and RLI matters were discussed over a few drinks. Usually in attendance were Jono Dixon, Charlie Aust, Pat Hill, Ian Bate, Ken Bothma and Dereck Stokes.

1981 –1983 

In January 1981 John Cole was elected as the first Chairman of the RLIRA in South Africa. His committee was made up of some well known and respected men of the RLI namely: Ian Bate –Vice Chair, Jono Dixon –Secretary , Dereck Stokes-Treasurer, area Liaison members consisted of: Kip Donald , Simon Harroff , Pat Hill , Steve Carey , Frank Gerber.

Other RLI personalities who also served in the first committee were: Rob Korb, Bill Moon, Theo Serfontein, John Pearson Allen Lindner. Membership was estimated at 18.

Highlights and Achievements

*About six crates of kit and Equipment plus The Trooper Statue had to be cared for and were secured in the Military History Museum in Saxonwold, Johannesburg.

Charlie Aust, in his capacity as last Commanding Officer of the RLI , held talks with SA Government officials regarding suitable storage and display of RLI Trooper and memorabilia. The SA officials would not allow the RLI to display their statue or memorabilia in any Municipality owned building, and would only allow such display should a new wing be built at the Military Museum within the next five years. The Fourways Hotel was chosen as the permanent venue for the RLI functions which included the RLI Birthdays. A draft constitution was to be formulated for the Johannesburg Association.

1983- 1985

In August 1983 a new committee was elected consisting of: Ian Bate –Chairman, John Cole –Vice Chair, Secretary –Ken Bothma, Treasurer –Mrs Beech , Property Member –Alex Porterfield

Other committee members were: Frank Gerber, Tich Brotherton, Del Bolton, Frank Guthery, Dave Russell . Membership estimated - 32. During this time John Cole acknowledged that Jono Dixon and his wife were regarded as the catalyst in keeping the RLIRA alive and well over the past three years. Members within the Association that many of you may remember were: Alf Logan, Geoff Liversedge, Peter Eldridge, Jerry Strong 

Highlights and Achievements 

A Dedication service was held at Dickie Fritz on 5th February 1984. This was regarded as a tremendous success with some R400 rand after expenses being raised on the day. Approximately 150 people attended a function for the Dedication and RLI Birthday at the Fourways Golf Course on the 9th February 1985. Alan Gerrish played the pipes. Brian Streak started putting together material for a book on the RLI. The RLIRA joined forces with RASA who had accepted RLI members as members of RASA. The introduction of an RLIRA Newsletter. The possibility of joining MOTHS and or establishing our own “Saints“ Shellhole was investigated.

For various reasons the RLI Association went into a hiatus of sorts for a number of years, with only occasional informal and social gatherings taking place at various venues in Johannesburg in a bid to keep the camaraderie and RLI spirit alive. These were largely done on the spur of the moment and by word of mouth. Acknowledgement should be given to these men, and although their names may not be known at this time, we thank them for their loyalty and dedication during some trying times in our 38 year history in South Africa.


Derick Taylor became Chairman and attempts to hold meetings and revive the Association were made. At time of going to press it is unknown how successful Derick was, but all credit must go to him for rallying the Ouens and for keeping the Flag flying. Unfortunately there are no official records and very little information is available to record events during this period.


George Dempster arranged a gathering at the Fourways Gardens clubhouse, 120 individuals attended. Hamish MacIntyre became chairman and attempts were made to reignite the Association, but this was met with limited success as Hamish was working outside of the country.  Again no records are on file for this period. Membership estimated at 120


George Dempster stepped in as Chairman and appointed a committee. George and Chris Cocks worked extremely hard at keeping the Association and RLI Spirit alive and are generally regarded as the catalyst in getting the Africa Branch back on the map so to speak. Acknowledgement too must given to Shirley Dempster, who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that events and functions arranged by the Association were managed professionally and to a high standard.. Membership estimated at 223

Highlights and Achievements 

In cooperation with Tony Young and Chris Cocks, George formalised a new constitution. Working with Martyn Hudson in the UK, the committee were instrumental in getting RLI Colours safely ensconced in the UK and the UK Museum become a reality. The successful launch of the book, The Saints, edited by Chris Cocks, in London provided a rallying point for the RLIRA to take off in the UK and Africa. George set up and to this day maintains the RLIRA Website which he provides free of cost to the RLIRA.


Billy Wiggill - Chairman. His committee consisted of: Mervyn Kluckow-Treasurer (Rob Marsh stepped in after Mervyn’s unfortunate passing). Chris Ras- Secretary (Alan Strachan stepped in after Chris Ras had to stand down due to work commitments). Gary Huxham served as QM. Estimated membership -426

Highlights and Achievements

Bill and his committee are credited with a number of success in their term of office. The Cheetah Magazine was brought back to life after some 29 years of dormancy, with Chris Cocks as editor. In November 2009, the first electronic version, the ECheetah as it is known was published and disseminated to members worldwide. The 49th RLI Birthday Reunion held in Durban South Africa with 249 members friends and guests in attendance. A first for the RLIRA Association worldwide, as on parade together were General Peter Walls, Colonel Charlie Aust and the Patron Ron Reid Daly. Another milestone was that under the same roof were some 23 RLI Officers and 12 Warrant Officers. The 50th RLI Birthday and Reunion was held at Swarkops Airforce Base with some 352 members, friends and guests attending. The event kicked off with former Cos of the Battalion, Gen Hickman, Col Ian Bate and Col Charlie Aust, together with former RSMs , Robin Tarr, Harry Springer and Ken Reid being flown into the base on a Puma helicopter. The registration of the RLI and Association Trademarks in South Africa. Initiation and publication of the legacy book Africa’s Commando’s. Bill became Webmaster of the RLIRA site in 2012 and initiated the first major overhaul of the RLI website.


Charlie Norris was elected as Chairman. His committee consisted of: Rob Marsh -Treasurer, Alan Strachan- Secretary, Len Beechy – QM, Buks Theron – Joburg Rep, Skippy Mitchell Durban Rep, Maurice Gabriel Cape Town Rep.

The Africa committee, affectionately known as the “Africa Korps” by Bill Wiggill who was now CEO of the Worldwide Association, focussed on injecting a spark of life back into the African branch of the RLIRA. The prevailing aim was to improve and maintain the camaraderie so essential to a successfully operating branch.

The first thing was to change the monthly prayer meeting from a Friday evening to lunch time on the first Saturday of each month. Attendance went from less than to an average of 30+ within two months. These meetings were held at the Dickie Fritz MOTH shell hole in Edenvale and continue some six years later.  Another innovation introduced was the reading of the Roll of Honour of all members of the Battalion who had died during that particular month. The committee held fortnightly meetings at the Chairman’s house to keep a handle on and plan the business of the branch.

The first major event was the planning of the 52nd birthday and reunion which was held at Victoria Lake in Germiston. The event went off well and was well attended. Notable was the amount of people appearing in the requested dress code.

The various parades and memorials around Johannesburg and Pretoria eg The Dellville Wood Parade were religiously attended by members of the committee and other members started to support us too. This led to the RLIRA becoming more visible and had benefits as we were able to get a band of volunteers to form a marching band for our annual parade.

A standardised dress code for formal parades, designed to reflect Africa and the Battalion’s history was introduced. This consisted of beret, RLIRA tie, blazer, sand coloured chinos and vellies. This has now become our trademark dress code and it is not unusual to see 100+ members attending formal parades thus kitted out.

It became apparent that there was a growing need to help former members of the Battalion who had fallen on hard times or were in urgent need of medical funding. Thus the welfare program was started up and continues to attract support to this day.

The 53rd and 54th Annual birthday parades/two reunions were held at Dickie Fritz which had now become the spiritual home of the RLIRA-Africa. For the first time a band was used and the ouens took great pride and pleasure into forming up and marching into position to the tune of “When the Saints go Marching In”. We were starting to get upwards of 50 plus members on parade and along with spouses and children etc attendance at these events were in the region of 150+.

All subsequent birthday parades have been held at Dickie Fritz on the first Saturday in February each year.

The committee also arranged and held various outings/functions over the three years all of which were well supported and attended. Soime were fund raisers for a specific project eg Patron’s Day for welfare funding and others were break even events to improve the camaraderie of the group. Two of note were a range day where participants had a pistol competition and also fired Heckler and Koch MP5s. Another great nostalgic day included a shooting competition firing FNs and AKs as well as rides in a camouflaged  Alouette lll with doors removed.

Finally members of the committee invited Brian Lewis to brunch and by the end of the meal had a new chairman elect.